Parenting Matters — Pick and choose carefully

As parents, we expect a lot from our children. We want them to pick up their toys, put away their clothes, wear the right clothes, go to bed at the correct time, not whine, use the potty when they need to, finish their dinner, play nicely with their friends, not lie, come when they are called, and do what we ask of them. As your child grows, the list grows with them. Now it includes doing your homework, driving carefully, not speeding, helping in the yard, cleaning your room, calling if you will be late and even this list goes on and on. These are just a few of the many things we expect. You can see this could be overwhelming.

With the need for so many changes, it is best that some behaviors are ignored. Ignoring some issues is an effective way to discipline your child because it doesn’t give him the attention for bad behavior. It also gives him a manageable number of behavior changes to work on.

In order to keep the behaviors you want to change at a minimum, try to ignore some. Things like pouting, smart-talking, nose picking, thumb sucking, swearing, minor squabbling, whining and messy eating may even go away with time and maturity. Even your growing child’s messy room, his time on the phone, his lack of help with the dog, his relationship with his little sister or keeping his phone calls to a reasonable length might be the choice of what you can ignore for now. You may not agree with ignoring all of these but at least ignore some.

If you must correct your child’s behavior, make sure to use the word “no” sparingly. If you overuse the word, you child will pay less attention to it. When you use “no” too frequently, he will believe it isn’t important.

On the other side, be sure to praise what your child is doing that is right because that is the opposite of what you are ignoring. You want him to see that your response is different. You need to look for behaviors to reward. Rewards can be as simple as you giving him a hug for doing such a good job or his trying to make a change.

One of the best ways to change something your child is doing you don’t like is to pick one thing to change. Limit the number you are trying to change so you can work on it with your child. This should be the thing that is bothering you the most. If you try to get him to change in too many ways at the same time, you may actually defeat your purpose. He is even more likely to give up because you have so much you criticize him for doing.

If he is fairly young, you might even make a chart that he can put a star on it when he does what you have asked him to do. Even if you skip the chart, be excited about his behavior as it changes. Even tell others what a nice job he is doing.

Emphasizing positive change is better than criticizing bad behavior. This is true with little kids all the way to adults. Give it a try. See if you can have better results when you put your emphasis on the positive. You might even want to have your own chart to keep track of your behavior as you try to correct your child’s behavior.

Cynthia Martin is the founder of the First Teacher program and director of Parenting Matters Foundation, which publishes newsletters for parents, caregivers and grandparents. Reach Martin at or at 681-2250.